Friday, 4 May 2012

Atiku, Szilagyi... making artistic statement over failed bomb bid

By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published on
Tuesday, January 26, 2010)
AT a time the action of one misguided youth is threatening diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Nigeria, two artists from these countries, are exploiting the universality of art (performance and installation) to make a statement on the crisis. 

The artists, Lagos-based Jelili Atiku and Petra Szilagyi from Williams College, Massachusetts, U.S., offered spiritual advice in the work titled Corpus Cal-lo-sum. Held on Saturday, in Ejigbo - a Lagos suburb - the performance took the artists through five kilometers' walk from the Ejigbo central bus station to the improvised art gallery at Ifoshi Road.

An alleged failed bomb attempt by Nigeria-born Farouk Abdul Mutallab on a Detroit-bound American plane, last December, had led to the inclusion of Nigeria on what the U.S. authority called list of "countries of interest." Reacting, Nigeria had kicked against the decision.

Costumed in a mummy-like figure, and in red, Atiku declared that Corpus Cal-lo-sum "portrays the consequential effects of the realities - a psychological speculation of actions and reactions." Terror acts in whatever form, he said is not acceptable, urging the world to take the opportunity nature offers mankind - as symbolized by red and white - to achieve global peace.

Also in similar wrapped of head to toe costume, Szilagyi who represented the "White" character argued that the physical cannot be removed from the spiritual.

While the installation, a covering of the walls with waste newspapers and hanging of some oval objects of red and white appeared not to be integrated into the performance properly, Atiku explained that "it is complementary."

The appearance of these two figures on Ifoshi Road attracted attention, nearly causing a traffic hold-up through the central bus station. On return, just a few of the curious audience were able to see the performance inside the gallery where the couple displayed much of their thought on the mystic relationship between red and white.

With each artist's arm and leg tied to the other, the combination, this time around was better appreciated as red on white effect took the audience to the realm of spirituality.

"The white represents spiritual; red the physical or blood. We are urging the world to use this combination positively so that shedding of blood would be halted. Enough is enough," Atiku said. And when security measures such as full-body scanners are being put in place at airports to halt lost of innocent lives, the world is divided on the need for such device. Atiku disagreed with this security check, arguing that it's a violation of passengers' privacy.

The Mutallab incident is currently confusing existing security measures; U.S. decided on full-body scanners at airports, while the E.U. was divided on the need for such security checks. Anti-terror security measures at European airports, few E.U. countries argued, were already "strict enough".

Americans, Szilagyi noted, need assurance on safety, but full-body scanners is not acceptable to most people in the U.S., she said. "It's de-humanising," Atiku stressed.

And despite the inclusion of Nigeria on the terror watch list of the U.S., Szilagyi still came on visit. For her, such warning is familiar. She recalled that, "several years back, we were told that Nigeria was not the place to visit. This is my first time here, and my experience in the last few days showed that the people are very hospitable." Nigeria, she said, has no reason to be on the security risk list released by the U.S.

Currently working with the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), Lagos on the center's Third Video Art Workshop as well as her individual project in Lagos, Szilagyi's focus - over the past four years - is on power and social structure. She explained that, "as you get older, you find that many of the so-called 'facts' you have been taught aren't necessarily so. I find this incredible: the more you investigate and break down the orders that make up your surroundings, the harder it becomes to understand yourself and your surroundings. I make art to create new worlds and invite others to join me."

On the issue of artists using their arts to effect changes beyond the art landscape, late German artist, Joseph Beuys is one of such to admire, Atiku noted. Significantly, the January 23 date of the performance, he said, was consciously chosen as a tribute to Beuys whose death, "stands as a symbolic element in this installation and performance."

In his contribution to the show, Assistant Programme Officer, Advocate for Human Rights Through Arts (AHRA), Kolawole Shadare said Corpus Cal-lo-sum commemorates the death of Beuys, whose work reaches out beyond the borders of art. "Therefore, Atiku and Szilagyi seem to situate the philosophical foundation of these enactments and installation on Beuys' philosophies - an indirect way of commenting on the issue of terrorism in the world. Perhaps, they are saying, we aren't terrorists!"

On display as part of the installation were drawings, by Atiku, such as Requiem for Joseph Beuys (charcoal and finger paint); Bimolecular (charcoal and finger paint), Who Will Remind Us of This Mo-Ment?; Me Who Kiss Your Garment's Hem, poster colour, and newspaper.

The performance is a follow-up to his earlier work, Red and Me. Atiku recalled that in the solo performance held at CCA, Lagos in January last year, an attempt was made to explain that, "mankind is an automated machine just like fabric of flesh and ignite with a lubricant known as blood."

He has been very active in the alternative media, lately. In 2005, he started with the installation, E Wawo, The Awaiting Trial Persons - a campaign against prison congestion - held at the Lagos State House of Assembly and in the premises of the Creative Arts Department, University of Lagos, Akoka. Between that period and now, the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU)-trained artist has extended his performance art to the grassroots, engaging the common man on the streets in dialogue.

Last November, his project Agbo Rago (Ram Ranch) addressed injustice and inequality, depicting the class system, a la master-slave mentality.

Another work of his, this time, a video art titled Victim of Political Assassination is currently being screened at The Rencontres Internationales Festival, Paris.

Through the CCA, Atiku has been participating in other international video art events taking place at Sabo, Yaba-based centre, Lagos.

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